The Straight Hits! Josh T. Pearson Interview by Ian Johnston

Josh T Pearson

Hot on the heels of the release of only his second solo album, The Straight Hits!, Josh T. Pearson is heading off on a short UK tour in a couple of days. 

“Fast as a bullet, aimed by God, Shootin’ for stars, cannot be stopped.” Straight To The Top!

Texan singer/songwriter Josh T. Pearson returns to the fray, in high style, with his outstanding second Mute solo album, The Straight Hits! A spirit of hard-fought optimism, joy, humour and rabble-rousing mischief infectiously courses through the grooves of The Straight Hits! album. The LP (suitably pressed on lurid pink vinyl) proffers a gold-standard template of what rollicking contemporary country/ roadhouse honky-tonk music should sound like in the hands of a masterful songwriter. It is a sure bet that Hunter S. Thompson, George Jones or Waylon Jennings would have dug The Straight Hits!, and Pearson freely discusses the thrillingly eclectic disc (which mixes cow-punk rock ‘n’ roll, reflective folk ballads and fractured pop) in detail at Mute’s low-key Hammersmith HQ.

As ever, Pearson’s appearance reflects the record he has produced. The longhaired, heavily bearded man in black, with a black Stetson hat, of yore is gone. Possibly, the sight of so many bearded Shoreditch hipster imitators soured the look for Pearson. Now on the cover of The Straight Hits!, and in its accompanying publicity shots, Pearson is clean-shaven, sporting only a pencil-thin moustache, short hair slicked back and dressed in a natty white cowboy suit, white western shirt and white Stetson. His cowboy boots, thankfully, remain black.

For our meeting, Pearson is comparatively casually dressed in a black tasselled leather biker jacket, blue jeans, thick Western belt buckle, gleaming polished cowboy boots and a black ‘Texas Gentlemen’ T-shirt. As utterly sincere as Pearson is, concerning his beliefs, obsessions and art, he also has a keen sense of self-deprecation and the absurd. In conversation, Pearson is very friendly, considerate and surprisingly open. He possesses a razor-sharp, gallows humour, delivered in his steady, quiet Texan drawl, which sometimes goes completely over some people’s heads. Some long-term Pearson aficionados have been shocked by the singer’s transformation o on his new album, yet this is just surface detail. Though Pearson is artistically striking out in a new, focussed direction, he is still the same man.

For those new to his work, here is a thumbnail sketch of Pearson’s story to date. Pearson hails from Texas and a Baptist/Pentecostal church background. His deceased father was a Pentecostal minister: ”My parents split when I was young. We moved around twenty times. I didn’t really see him.” He was brought up singing in church. “I’d go there two or three times a week. I picked up the guitar, I think at 12, and I haven’t put it down since.” Also at the age of 12, Pearson heard the electric rock guitar for the first time. A friend was playing a Sex Pistols song and Pearson could not believe that he was recreating the Pistols’ rousing, anthemic sound. Pearson was shown how to play like Steve Jones and the chords to U2’s ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ on the guitar. “I went around the house playing that for a few days. I bought my first electric guitar for five dollars from a friend down the street. It didn’t have a name on it. I couldn’t afford an amp, so I bought an acoustic.”

In 2001, Pearson’s three-piece rock band Lift To Experience, formed in 1997, released their one and only epic double album masterwork, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads. Brimming with apocalyptic Biblical imagery and soaring, feedback overdriven rock guitars The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads (originally envisaged as the first part of trilogy of albums, depicting Texas as a new Garden of Eden sanctuary in the wake of global catastrophe) was instantly commended by critics and audiences alike, with the band offered a radio session by a smitten John Peel. Not that long after the album was released, Lift To Experience imploded – the wife of bassist Josh ‘The Bear’ Browning died, there were drug problems and Pearson sacked drummer Andy (The Boy) Young. “Well, that was a complicated time. Complicated politically. I kinda lost my mind on that album. George Bush was kind of fucking with my metaphors.” For the next ten years, Pearson would alternate between hiding away from the prying eyes of the world, living in the very small town of Tehuacana, Limestone County, deep in the heart of Texas, and performing odd concerts and shows in America and Europe, when the muse moved him.

Having abandoned any plans to reform Lift To Experience, Pearson even considered recording a covers album based around songs about loneliness. This was also eventually discarded, but the selection of cover numbers (including Patsy Cline’s ‘Seven Lonely Days’, George Jones’ ‘Lonesome Life’ and ‘Ain’t That Lonely Yet’ by Dwight Yoakam), give some insight into Pearson’s points of reference. A 2006 7’ inch single, split with The Dirty Three, featuring Pearson’s cover of Hank Williams’ ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ and live appearances at The West Country Girl crêperie in Paris (above which Pearson was bivouacking for a while) and a couple of performances at some All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals only added to the singer/songwriter’s growing mystique.

Pearson had left Texas for Europe, living first in Paris and then Berlin. It was in that city, over two very cold days in February 2010, Pearson recorded his harrowing, acoustic album, featuring seven 10 minute long songs (eight on the vinyl release), Last of The Country Gentlemen. The record, released on Mute in 2011, is a frank, confessional account of the breakdown of his three-year marriage to fashion photographer Claudia Grassl, charting the singer’s changing emotions from rage to heartbreak through to some eventual acquiescent understanding. It was almost universally viewed as a masterpiece, one of the greatest records produced in this Godforsaken decade.

Having completed a lengthy period of promoting and playing Last Of The Country Gentlemen, Pearson once again disappeared from view. He broke cover again in 2016, reforming Lift To Experience to play at Guy Garvey’s Meltdown festival on The South Bank, London. Mute released a stunning and bold new mix/refashioning of The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads the following year. Pearson had always been dissatisfied with the first 2001 mix of the album, by the group’s Bella Union label boss, Simon Raymonde, but the dynamic 2017 remix, by Matt Pence at Echo Lab in Texas with Pearson producing, finally captured the full raw power of Lift live. Lift To Experience have subsequently played a series of South By South West shows and festival dates (they will perform this year at the Primavera festival, Barcelona in June), but there are no plans for further recordings.

Which brings us to the present, our interview on 17 April 2018 and Pearson’s new record, produced by the singer/songwriter and recorded by Matt Pence, The Straight Hits! Each composition, featuring Lift drummer Andy Young once more on the tubs, and Daniel Creamer and Scott Lee Jr. of The Texas Gentlemen on keyboards and bass guitar, had to conform to ‘Josh T. Pearson’s The Five Pillars’:

  1. All songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge.
  2. The lyrics must run 16 lines or less.
  3. They must have the word ‘straight’ in the title.
  4. That title must be four words or less.
  5. They must submit to the song above all else.

Josh T. Pearson: “Ian, it’s so good to see you. Honour and a privilege. A scholar and a gentleman, gentleman and a scholar.”

Ian Fraser Johnston: Thank you.

JTP: “I’m glad we are still in the game, somehow, we’ve survived. That means it’s a success.”

IFJ: The last time I saw you perform, before the Rough Trade in-store gigs this year, was at the Heavenly Social in London, on 31st October 2016, for the Rough Trade 40th Anniversary gig. That’s not that long ago, but it seems like a hell of a lot has happened since then. Did any songs from that session make it to The Straight Hits!?

JTP: “I think a lot of them that I played that night, 14 songs, were new songs, and a lot of them were Straight Hits, maybe all of them. But it was all stuff I had just come off writing. I’d finished in Paris and had come over from that. Here we are, over 14 months later, and it’s finally come out. Which shows you how long it takes to get it into the music machine wheelhouse. The songs were written in three days, practice with the drummer in three days. Three days for the acoustic stuff and then the mixing took long enough, but just to get into the studio set up time with players, then to print it, blah, blah, blah, finally out four months before to get it into the hands of the critics. It takes a long time. 12 months, 14 months.”

IFJ: The Straight Hits! has brought you back, as a solo artist, after seven years away. The record seems like a declaration of independence, in some fashion. Would you agree with that?

JTP: “I couldn’t agree more. Burning down the old idols. Burning down my reputation as fast as I can. I got that from a buddy in Paris, an old Italian painter dude, friend of mine. He paints fish with the blood of living fishes. He’ll go down to Sicily; I met him a few years ago playing a show there. He’ll go down to the market, get fish straight off the boat, gut them and use their blood to paint their image with. I was visiting with him in Paris, and I was talking about the new stuff and my old reputation, and he said, ‘A good word of advice; you need to burn your reputation down as fast as you can.’ Now that is pretty good advice, as from one fellow artist to another. It’s also burning down the ships – leave no way home. Reset the playing field. It’s my show anyway. I can do whatever the fuck I want. I do whatever I want to do. I’ve never really played by the rules, as it were. I’ve always chosen not to be part of the music machine, intentionally, you know. It’s always been more theatre and performance art than a JTP show. Gone for a decade – it wasn’t for lack of work or writing, I write all the time, I just choose not to be part of that because I had other fish to fry.”

IFJ: You work so quickly, but there are these long gestation periods were you seem to be thinking about how you are going to return. Have you reached a point now where you can operate within the music machine?

JTP: “I’m changing my aesthetic – moving from theatre to Hollywood, I guess.”

IFJ: Ha!

JTP: “Yeah, thank you. There was the performance art, the live show, being there, and physically experiencing it. Now, this could be about getting older, but I now want to leave a more permanent record where the records do the work for me. I can play that game, but you have to give up so much of your personal freedom when you do it. It becomes your output; you have to submit to it. You have to start hiring people to be part of it and they are dependant on you and then that effects where you go and what you do. I feel as though I’ve gathered enough evidence, in my soul searching and exploration, physical and spiritually, to give up that freedom and be part of it, because I think the good will outweigh the other stuff. So, if I had my way, I’d like to put a record a year out for the next decade, and have fun with it. Mess with the waters.”

IFJ: It seemed very important to you, the remixing and reissue last year of the Lift To Experience album, The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads.

JTP: “Yeah, super important. Setting the record straight. After we got that in order, it did feel like a big release. I thought that’s OK, that’s exactly where I need it now. It always bothered me that it wasn’t mixed properly, or more accurately, to represent how that band sounded, live. Compositionally, it was pitch perfect but I did feel a certain release – OK, that’s in order now, that’s good enough for people to hear it who haven’t heard it before.”

IFJ: The Straight Hits! opens with a great rock ‘n’ roll song, ‘Straight To The Top!’ It fits in with a fine lineage of Texas 60s garage punk, with that sound and feel. That’s a difficult thing to do in this day and age – make a totally convincing, upbeat rock ‘n’ roll number.

JTP: “I wrote it in five minutes, literally. I wrote it quicker than I had the time to write it down. It was pretty instant. I’ve been doing it since I was twelve, so that’s 32 years I guess.”

IFJ: It’s got an urgency about it.

JTP: “Yeah, an immediacy. All these tunes were written quickly. It was off the back end of another project I was working on, creatively: a song cycle batch that I’d had for a decade, called Bird Songs For Songbirds. I could never crack the code lyrically to it and I finally got the device to help me crack it, which was the poem The Conference of the Birds (by Farid ud-Din Attar). That opened that up. So I spent a month and a half, working tirelessly, fiercely, on that with heavy introspection….heavy introspection. Coming of that wave I needed something to ground me again. I wanted something silly, silly and immediate. So I thought I just do this exercise, I tried this exercise 15 years ago; see how fast I could write a record. It took seven days, wrote 13 songs, which I never put out, of course. I just wanted to see if I could do it if I wanted too. Good tunes too, solid, regular, 1,4,5 songs. But I wanted to see if I could beat my time, so this (The Straight Hits!) was three days. Actually, two days, but one of the songs, ‘Love Song (Set Me Straight)’, required a bit more. I had to obey the physical rules I’d set up to obey the song, submit to the song, which is, I think, is the rule in all good art – do what the art tells you. That one she called back and said, ‘Come and see me again. We need to spend more time together; hang out.’ So I did and that took about a day to figure out how to show it publicly. ‘Love Song (Set Me Straight)’ is the one on the album that kind of transcends for me, where I kind of break character. I’m playing with all those different characters, but on that one, I kind of let my guard down. ‘Loved Straight To Hell’ is good; I hint at the darker side but don’t quite collapse into it… it’s the darkness to come.”

IFJ: ‘Loved Straight To Hell’ also points a crooked finger back to Lift To Experience, in a way….

JTP: “Yeah. That sentiment and that anger, dark anger. If I get around to it, Lord willing, I’ve got a couple of records worth of that kind of material, that vibration, but I didn’t want to go that deep with this. This is just a hint. It is meant to be for the masses, for the pop. You can’t go deep with pop stuff, you know. “

IFJ: But then again, you can. I was thinking of the song ‘Straight At Me’. It’s straight pop, sort of, but those lyrics about the poisoned Indian blankets, referencing ‘The Trail of Tears’ that the Native Americans were subjected to…

JTP: “That whole song, ‘Straight At Me’, is about being infected by love, love as an infection. If you are at the mercy of love, it is the worst thing you could ever ask for. Your sick and nauseous and completely at the mercy of someone else.”

IFJ: Love Is A Dog From Hell is referenced on ‘Straight Down Again’.

JTP: “Yeah, that’s a good, good, poem – (Charles) Bukowski, he got some great work in there. But I’m being playful – ‘they‘re giving blankets at half off’, the soldiers giving poisoned blankets to the Indians, to wipe them out so there was less bloodshed. But there is optimism there – ‘Hey babe, they are giving blankets at half off!’ We know this journey is doomed from the start: ‘From the arrows of love, I’ll probably die, At least say so long for the rest of my life. But I don’t mind, the poison’s makin’ me high, High as a kite, at least until the lightning strikes.’ Yeah, that age-old tradition of the American/European tribe taking out the American Indians. God Bless America (shakes his head).”

Josh_T_Pearson_Credit_Eliot_Lee_Hazel__538_crop_smIFJ: Yeah. Next up on the album is ‘Give It To Me Straight’ – now if Jerry Lee Lewis ever gets back into a recording studio, he could knock out a great version of that.

JTP: “I like that description. I don’t know why some of the critics have gone for such heavy-handed stuff. There are a few that don’t get that playfulness side, that’s in that honky-tonk tradition and barroom stuff. In my head, that song was like honky-tonk Bad Seeds, or something. It’s kind of threatening pop, but silly, playful. But I don’t know, I think it’s fun. I think it will make more sense in a live setting with a full band. You are being playful with the girl, she is still calling all the shots but… Give It To Me Straight.”

IFJ: ‘Damn Straight’ is a cover. How did you find it?

JTP: “I thought about writing a song about George Strait, as a homage. I’d thought of that years before. I was beating it up and I just couldn’t crack it. It felt like the hesitation that you get sometimes, artistically, where something in your brain, or consciousness, inside or outside of you, just holds you back, for some reason you don’t know. It’s like, ‘What’s holding me back? I should be able to write this quick, it’s not coming. Why?’ So I Googled it: ask the oracle – had this been done? And it had, sure as shit, by a guy in Austin, Texas, called Jonathan Terrell. I also stumbled upon a honky-tonk version by this band called Mike And The Moonpies, a two-step honky-tonk band down there, a really good band. They were doing a version and I found out Jonathan Terrell was the author. I asked around and it turned out that he was working at this bar that I’d spent a couple of years going to, The White Horse (500 Comal St, Austin), which was a real haven for me these last three or four years, coming out of my introverted shell. He was working the bar there and I asked him if I could cover it. Since then we have become good friends, he’s a heck of a songwriter, one of my favourites in Austin doing that Americana stuff, heart on my sleeve its good work. But I did another tripped out country version of it, psychedelic country I guess we’ll call it. We were going to add some bells and whistles and make it more tripped out, but it fitted the record this way. We were more straight up with the acoustic (version), where you try to make it psychedelic just with the harmonies, the band, the vocal, arrangements and stuff.”

IFJ: The track ‘The Dire Straits Of Love’ almost sounds like post-modern doo-wop, tapping into that rich vocal harmony tradition.

JTP: “I think you’re absolutely right. I spent a couple of my teenage years, one of the first jobs I had, working in a shop in Texas, a hardware store, where they would play the 1950s oldies station, every day, one of those classic stations were they play the same two hundred songs, over and over and over. That really informed me quite a bit. I was later influenced by that avant-garde, Shoegaze, Sonic Youth stuff, but I appreciate that you picked up on that, I really do.”

IFJ: Hasn’t anybody else? It seems pretty obvious.

JTP: “I’m a little disappointed that someone hasn’t been as astute. You’re pretty observant and might have a finer ear towards that, or to see that there might be something deeper going on here, than a little scratch on the surface. As much as I say it’s surface stuff, there is subtext and context.”

IFJ: The album seems as sincere as Last Of The Country Gentlemen.

JTP: “Yeah.”

IFJ: Then there is your obsession with artificial intelligence, the fact that the word ‘straight’ has the letters ‘AI’ in the middle, which are all underlined on the album cover….

JTP: “I definitely have an agenda here. I know what I’m doing. The songs took three days to write, but for what I need to do, it’s done after that, if it takes a week or ten years. It’s not ‘bragging’ if you’re trying to write this type of song. I definitely had an agenda, if I can pull it off. The reason to come out of the closet, to be part of the whole thing; I feel like there is some sort of responsibility towards something later. So, if I can pull it off, it might be cool. It’s the first time I’ve been proactive with my art, where I’m not self-limiting by design, where I’m not requiring a lot from the listener.”

IFJ: In that you are trying to reach a wider audience?

JTP: “Yeah. I want this to spread out. I want it to spread out like a disease all across the globe. I think it’s good. I’ve done enough travelling and soul-searching that just the vibrations in my voice…. I think the vocals are the main secret weapon, musically. The hidden language in the vibrations of a person’s voice that cannot be replicated, and will be the last thing to be replicated, that will communicate healing powers. I maybe, naively so, think this, but I’m going to try and get it out there as quick as I can.”

IFJ: It does engender a feeling of optimism.

JTP: “Good, good. I want optimism and I want to spread the joy, Trump you out, you know. Let’s spread some love in here.”

IFJ: ‘Whiskey Straight Love’ is a good song.

JTP: “That’s cute, huh? Nobody had done that – drank whiskey straight into love. Nobody had used that cheesy metaphor. I was glad about that.”

IFJ: That’s a song you can hear sung by the likes of Willie Nelson or Kris Kristofferson. You’ve met both of them, haven’t you?

JTP: “Just Kris. I have not met Willie, unfortunately. But I have written a hit song called ‘All My Friends Have Met Willie Nelson, So Why Can’t I?’ I recorded it recently with The Texas Gentlemen and it went into this EPK. It’s a cool little cowpunk song, but I’m pissed that I haven’t met him yet. He’s getting old, he’s like 90 years old, almost, and he’s going to die and I’m going to be upset if all my loser friends have met him and I haven’t got a chance to do it. Peter (Sasala), who is by no means a loser, he’s my sole right-hand man and manager, he’s met him and he’s from… SLOVAKIA! You know? I haven’t met him and I’m from (through gritted teeth) Texas. So, I need to shake his hand for a second. Well, at least we got a song out of it. Now that I’ve written a song I think it’s OK.”

IFJ: Will this be released on a single or EP that’s unrelated to the album?

JTP: “I wrote it with the design to will it into being, so, yeah.”

IFJ: ‘Love Song (Set Me Straight)’ features the great English sax/trumpet player Terry Edwards, of Gallon Drunk, P.J Harvey band and many other groups/projects.

JTP: “A great player, a real player, man.”

IFJ: What made you think of having him play trumpet on the track?

JTP: “He’s just a phenomenal player, you know. His availability and desire; I’d like this to be my first choice, if we could. He’s such a gentleman, and I like having gentlemen play on my records, and he was free. He’d just come off tour with P.J Harvey and came in the day he got back, or something, up to the farm in the wood where we were mixing it. South of London, from here, an hour or so, down at Agricultural Audio, Sussex. He put his horn on there and we called it a day.”

IFJ: It adds a different dimension to that track, as it is already unlike the other tracks on The Straight Hits!

JTP: Both the strings and the horn, I wrote those parts specifically, and I needed nice clean lines, and he’s such a player, a jazz player. ‘I’m sorry to ask for this, but..’ (Laughs).”

IFJ: Terry supported the jazz legend Archie Shepp at the Jazz Café in 2007. Shepp said after Terry’s version of ‘Harlem Nocturne’ that he had “a nice, warm tone” and that it reminded him of Earl Bostic. I think Terry was very pleased with that.

JTP: “Good! I’ll bet!”

IFJ: I like the way the album ends with the song, ‘Straight Down Again’. It’s a reminder that with all the best intentions things can easily go to pieces.

JTP: “I know this, I’ve been here (laughs). I know this loop. As hot as it gets, I know where it’s headed. I like that track, that track is good. I didn’t care for it until Daniel (Creamer) put his keyboard on there. Until then it wasn’t really landing, I liked it but it needed something else. He put his piano on it, he’s such a great player, he added that dimension that transcended it; those melancholy chords. He’s all over it: he gets so many emotions; he’ll play one run once. He locked it in for me. That helped me remember that I don’t have to carry all the weight all the time – let these other men come in and brush their strokes. I’m seriously coming from where I have to do all the painting. With the Lift stuff, it was all pre-programmed from practice, painting all the chords and stuff. So it was nice to have others as gifted come in and paint their colours too, others to hint at what I was going for lyrically. Daniel pushed it a little bit further; a great player great songwriter – he’s one of The Texas Gentlemen. He’s a young man who has been backing up a lot of country and rock players out in Texas. The Texas Gentlemen are session guys, super good session guys. The first time I’ve worked with session players. We have recorded another album; we’ll get to it, called Country-versy. It’s a comedy record. Hopefully, we’ll get that out in some fashion; I don’t know if it’s going to be under my name or under a pseudonym, or something. It’s pretty playful, might piss some people off, but I’d like to get that out there, floating around.”

IFJ: Next year?

JTP: “I don’t know. We may put it out as a bootleg or something. I need to add some jokes to it. It depends how this (The Straight Hits!) goes. It’s got an American sensibility; I don’t want to sabotage anything till I know if this (The Straight Hits!) does well in America, I think it might be appropriate to put it out.”

IFJ: There was a covers project that you mentioned some years ago. I think each track would contain the word ‘loneliness’.

JTP: “Oh yeah. Man, I got so many worlds in me, Ian. Buried And Lonely Under The Covers, tracks that all have ‘lonely’ or ‘loneliness’ in the title. I don’t know if we’ll get to that one. If I had my druthers I’d put out a record of originals and a record of covers out, each year, for the next 19 years. I’m not in that position yet, to call the shots. We are dependent on the mercy of others and their funding. Right now just trying to dig myself out of this hole, if we can, to be proactive, finally, and do it. If we can get out of the gate. We need a hit, I tell ya, that would be nice, then you can just sort of move the pieces around more quickly and efficiently and not have to wait for the mercies of others to give you their part. But, I did it to myself. I didn’t play the game – so I’m here now.”

IFJ: The Straight Hits! should get thing moving in the right direction.

JTP: “If I had my druthers, it would be… barring any personal accident or injury. I don’t think it’s self-sabotage. Barring acts of God…. I’ve always liked that phrase, barring acts of God; I thought that would be a good title for a record, Barring Acts of God – like you are wilfully barring an act of God. Yeah, straight to the top! Let’s do it! It’s the first time I’ve spiritually tried to move forward with it. But I needed the last four or five years to get my head out of my spiritual ass, come down off the mountain. It was a good trip, a good transition, some good learning stuff. But I don’t know, maybe I’m too old to play the game, come in there and put out my first rock video, which we just did last week (laughs).”

IFJ: But this record doesn’t sound like you a trying to come across as a teenager, or anything like that.

JTP: “Good. It sounds like an adult gentleman?”

IFJ: Yeah, very much.

JTP: “Good, I hope so.”

IFJ: An adult gentleman who has been around…

JTP: “Around the block. An artist, a proper artist. Patient. Timeless. I’d like to hit America.”

IFJ: This is quite a provocative record, in a way, coming out with an album called The Straight Hits! You are deliberately setting yourself up for voices in certain quarters to say, ‘Yeah, right.’

JTP: “I thought people would find it funnier than they have thus far. They are so serious. I mean, ‘Come on, dude! This is the second record I’ve ever put out and it’s called The Straight Hits! This shit is funny!’ I find it funny, I laugh about it, but a lot of people don’t. I recognise it’s a hard sell, coming off such heavy-handed stuff with levity, but humour is been one of the greatest tools for dealing and coping with pain, for me, personally. I’m trying to wear that on my sleeve a little bit more. I want to see what happens. It’s the hardest of the art forms, comedy.

IFJ: You could have easily returned with more sorrowful material, the man in black…

JTP: “And that for me would be selling out. Selling out would have been to put out The Return Of the Country Gentlemen or Last Of The Country Gentlemen II. I definitely have an arsenal of those types of songs, unrecorded, which I could return to, but that would feed the same fire. But that wouldn’t do it for me, for what I had to do, artistically. It wouldn’t be challenging; I always like a challenge. I like artists who you never know what is coming from them – they keep you guessing. You literally have no idea what is going to come next. That is the most fun.”

IFJ: Love it or loathe it, you seem to be able to function better, as an artist, within the music industry now. Do you agree?

JTP: “If you get too popular first, with the happy-go-lucky stuff, I don’t think you can cross back over to the heavy stuff. People are arriving at your shows, with those vibrations set in their systems; they want the funny stuff. To dip into that other side you cannot come at it, at that level, as if you could where 70 percent are wired or vibrating on the level where they want to hear the sadness. You can the reverse way, but not so much happy to sad. If you’re broke you can be fixed, if that makes sense. There is a danger, if you got too popular, that you couldn’t visit those areas. Unless you were in a theatre setting or something, and you’re doing Last Of The Country Gentlemen, straight. Or something like that where everyone is quiet. But if all the rednecks start coming… they don’t have the luxury of being broken. They have kids to feed and wives, they need to stay above that, to survive and breathe. I’d be happy if I could just start putting stuff out. There is a gospel record that I want to get out there; I’ve recorded that thing. You know, how much time is left? That is kind of important. This is something that Italian painter friend of mine said. He realised if he lived another hundred years he would never have time to finish all the ideas that he had. At some point, he was going to have to fish or cut bait. You have to say, I’ve only got about this time left what do I want to do first? I don’t know. I would love to finish the Lift stuff but there is loads of stuff, compositions. My mind works so quickly, but the time it takes to get it out, I don’t know, I’ll have to streamline it, in a way that’s a little more efficient than every seven years (laughs). Stranger things have happened. If I can do rock ‘n’ roll for 10, 15 years and then go back to that other stuff, that would be nice. I hope you are still alive.”

IFJ: So do I.

JTP: “You ask good questions. People who really do care, care about the answers, see rock ‘n’ roll as some sort of art form – we’re a dying breed, my man. Dying…. and we are just irreverent. We got in on the tail end of it.”

IFJ: But we managed to hear a lot of good stuff and you definitely contributed to it.

JTP: “Thank you, God bless you. Thanks for being here, asking such good questions. I really do hope we get this opportunity again.”

~

With thanks to Peter Sasala, Zoe Miller and Guy Manchester.

Copyright © Ian Johnston 2018.

The Straight Hits! is out now on Mute Records.

Josh T. Pearson & band live UK tour:

  • 15 May – UK, Leeds Brudenell Social Club
  • 16 May – UK, Birmingham The Glee Club
  • 18 May – IE, Dublin Whelans
  • 19 May – UK, Glasgow Art School
  • 20 May – UK, Manchester Gorilla
  • 22 May – UK, London Islington Assembly Hall

All words by Ian Johnston. More writing by Ian on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.

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  1. stewart wilson

    He looks like a young Boss Hogg

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